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Dutiful

Episode Two, Season Four, of Beauty.

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Dutiful

Scarlet found herself back in the poor, her pelt mixed with dirt, her face drawn out with exhaustion. Another day, another mission, another reason to hate herself.

She was crouched low, hidden in the shadows, her eyes shadowed. It had been a day or two since she had entered the poor but she hadn’t contacted Shadowfang or any of the rebels yet. She felt as if she was on fire, and when she showed up at the rebels’ headquarters, they would extinguish her.

Except they didn’t know about her betrayal, right? It wasn’t public news, and none of the squad members could get it out.

Scarlet spent the day trying to think of a good excuse for not being arrested by the Beauty herself. She had thought it through, and she finally found a plausible excuse.

“Scarlet!” Someone cried out and the scarred orange she-cat stiffened before turning a full circle to face Laura.

The pretty she-cat looked almost relieved. Scarlet and she had never gotten along, especially because Scarlet immediately recognized Larkpaw.

Scarlet tipped her head in a fashion that showed she was of a higher ranking than Laura but didn’t say anything.

“The others have been talking about the squad’s arrest and we’ve been wondering about what happened to them! How are you here right now? Surely they caught you too?”

Scarlet tossed her head back in an almost offended manner. “Dear Laura,” she drawled, knowing sounding bored would allow Laura to relax and realize she was being ridiculous, “I’m not exactly on the squad, remember? I was in another mission myself when Flareheart snatched them.”

“What mission?”

“One you don’t know about of course,” Scarlet gave an eye roll. “Shadowfang doesn’t know about it either. It was an order from Fire himself. A secret mission that even now I cannot speak of.”

Laura’s eyes widened in a noticeable way. “Well Shadowfang would be glad to know you’re all right,” she mumbled, “he worried the most about you.”

Scarlet stalked past the she-cat she had once known as Larkpaw. “Why would he worry?” She scoffed, “I am well-trained enough to avoid such situations.” It felt wrong to jab at the squad like that, but Scarlet had done it so many times in Whiteflicker and Redstar’s favor that she no longer felt the guilt.

What a monster they had made her, Scarlet thought, curling her lip in distaste, but perhaps it would pay off.

Laura trailed from behind but Scarlet sent her off to whatever she was doing, insisting she would be fine. Scarlet had no intention of meeting any other rebels anytime soon, as she still had to do her mission from Whiteflicker. Who knew how long before she had to go back to Beauty anyways.

Her mission was a simple one. Round up a few prisoners, cause some disruptions, and assure the rebels that Amberfrost and her squad were fully detained and were to be killed soon.

Scarlet didn’t doubt one bit that Redstar intended to execute the squad, but it was the time limit that mattered most to the she-cat. If she could stall a bit longer, perhaps she could figure out a way to save them.

“Scarlet,” a cool, unemotional voice startled her. She glanced up to find herself staring into Rainstorm’s cool, blue eyes. “How nice of you to return.”

It unnerved Scarlet that Rainstorm didn’t know her identity. She shared the most knowledge with the squad itself, and was practically a member. Yet she was the only one who hadn’t seen the Cherrypaw inside of her.

But Rainstorm’s eyes were cold. She obviously didn’t like how the squad was under arrest and here Scarlet was, unharmed and not in a hurry to try to save the squad. A reminder that the Beauty is flawed and the squad should have managed to escape.

“Rainstorm,” Scarlet dipped her head coolly, “how are you?”

Rainstorm narrowed her eyes, “Don’t give me that, Scarlet. Where is the squad? Why are you here?”

Scarlet used the excuse she used with Laura. “I was on a separate mission because I’m not officially part of the squad.”

Rainstorm’s lip thinned into a line and Scarlet could tell the gray she-cat didn’t quite believe her. “Well, I want you to come back to camp with me and--”

“Who is of a higher rank here?” Scarlet interrupted.

Rainstorm’s eyes blazed with anger. She straightened. “I don’t care what rank you are, Scarlet. That squad you were with, that’s my friends. I will do whatever it takes to save them.”

Scarlet felt a tiny pang in her chest. Those should be her friends too, but she had betrayed them. Rainstorm would kill her if she knew what Scarlet had done.

“I am in no condition to do anything about their imprisonment,” Scarlet snapped, forming a wall of emotions between her and Rainstorm so she wouldn’t be influenced to do anything. “You can bring up the situation to Shadowfang yourself.”

“I have,” Rainstorm’s eyes softened, “please, Scarlet.”

Don’t give in, Scarlet begged herself, you can’t give in now. If Flareheart or Redstar finds out…

“I can’t,” the words shot out of Scarlet’s mouth, “I have a mission I must do.”

She forced herself to turn away from the gray she-cat and began to stalk away. “I thought you were supportive of the squad!” She heard Rainstorm shout, “When I get them out, I’ll make sure they know you’re nothing but a selfish she-cat who doesn’t care about anyone around her.”

Scarlet flinched inwardly but marched away. Once she was far away from Rainstorm’s wrath, she sank down to the ground.

Rainstorm would get the squad out, Scarlet knew. There was no way she, or the squad, would let the execution happen. But once they were free, Amberfrost would tell Rainstorm who Scarlet actually was, and all those moons of pretending would crumble.

She doubted Shadowfang would take her back either.

“Are you all right?” A soft voice made Scarlet jerk her head up.

The first thing Scarlet noted about the cat was his strange paw. It was slightly deformed, and when the tom walked, Scarlet saw that he limped. He smiled, “I see you’ve noticed my…handicap.”

Scarlet blinked in surprise, “Who are you?”

“I’m Koya,” he said carefully and then he paused, as if he expected a reaction. When Scarlet gave him nothing but a blank stare, the tom deflated. “Who are you?”

Scarlet debated on what she should tell him. “Scarlet,” she said finally, “I’m Scarlet.”

“Scarlet?” Koya tipped his head, “Aren’t you one of Shadowfang’s trusted rebels?”

That was something Scarlet certainly hadn’t wanted to share. “Yes,” she muttered, “I am.” Not for long I’m sure…

The amber tom had bright, intense green eyes. “Are you doing anything right now?” Koya stood up from where he was crouched next to her, “I have a place not far from here that we can go to.”

“I’m not busy right now,” Scarlet murmured, “it would be nice to have somewhere to stay right now. I’m not really in the mood to go to the rebel underground area.”

“I understand,” Koya shot her that smile again, “I hate it there myself. I like to be around clean, fresh air.”

Scarlet found herself nodding. In truth, she had a grand chamber down there for her status, but Scarlet had no interest in being under Shadowfang’s watch again unless necessary.

Koya weaved his way through the poor until he swerved into a wall of fern. Scarlet followed without hesitating and found herself in a spacious den. “My secret hideout,” he beamed, “perfect for being away from rebels or Beauty alike.”

Scarlet glanced around. It was mostly empty, except for the nest tucked away in the corner. “You like running a clean place I see.”

“Hard to be messy when all you do is eat and sleep in here.” Koya shrugs.

Scarlet thought to her den in the underground rebel system. It was always messy, due to her being too lazy to actually clean it up. Like Koya, she only used it to eat and sleep, if she used it at all. “You’d be surprised,” she laughed.

It was a genuine laugh, and it had escaped Scarlet before she could stop it. She quickly erased the smile off her face and she turned away slightly when she saw Koya peering at her.

“You have a pretty laugh,” Koya said softly.

Scarlet blushed. “Thank you.”

“Say,” he continued, “do you know anyone in the Beauty?”

She stiffened and turned slowly to study Koya. It was the first time she had seen his face so serious. “Not really, why?”

“Just curious,” Koya shook his head, “don’t worry about it.”

“Family?” Scarlet probed cautiously. Koya looked uncomfortable, “It’s okay to worry about family members. I’m not too sure if my own family is alive.” After all these moons in the Beauty she hadn’t bothered to check.

“What’s your family like?” Scarlet noted that Koya avoided talking about why he wanted to know if she knew anyone in the Beauty.

Scarlet sighed. “I was raised by my mother to be a cautious, regular Beauty she-cat. She never talked about my father. But one day someone came in, yelling and tossing everything around in our den. It frightened me so much so I hid. My mother came out and screamed when she saw him. I found out later that he was my father. He wanted something from her but she kept saying no and he attacked her. Luckily, the Beauty soldiers came soon enough to take him away.”

“Harsh,” Koya’s eyes were distant, “what made you turn against the System?”

“My family,” Scarlet admitted, “My family is proof that the System has gone wrong. Nothing good comes out of it.”

The amber tom began to separate his nest to form too smaller ones. “Come on, you can rest in here for as long as you want. I’ll do the hunting if you want.”

“No,” Scarlet said hastily, “it’s fine. I should get going.”

“You said you weren’t busy.”

The scarred she-cat shifted on her paws. “I just remembered--”

“Please,” Koya trapped her with his glowing green eyes, “please stay.”

Scarlet didn’t know why that made her stumble over to her makeshift nest and sink down into it. “Thank you,” Scarlet whispered, “I’m not used to such courtesy.”

“Doesn’t Shadowfang give you everything you want?”

Not even close. “Not because he cares enough to. He just wants me to remain steady and loyal, his mini servant.”

Koya drew closer and dropped into his own nest. “I think everything should be given out of kindness and love, don’t you?” His eyes burned with intense fury, so sudden that Scarlet flinched, “Especially family.”

The fury was gone when Scarlet looked back up.

“You can stay here as long as you want,” Koya continued, curling up, “I won’t mind.”

“Thank you,” Scarlet stared at his back. I won’t mind either.

As she curled up to sleep, Scarlet had never felt more content in her life.

The End.

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